Thursday, July 23, 2015

Feeding the Bear

Four years after I watched my son die, I find myself having to do the second hardest thing a mother can do, five days a week:  I drop my daughter off with her grandpa, my father, for daycare, and I walk through the door, allowing someone else to spend more waking hours with her that day than I will, essentially placing someone else in charge of raising her.  I depart for work knowing she is happy, healthy, and will be apart from me for at least the next eight hours.

I'm fortunate that I love my job, because I don't have much choice other than to do it every day.  I live in a trench of student debt that must somehow be repaid and not working is simply not an option.  I'm further fortunate that I have family to look after Eden - If she can't be with me or her daddy all day, who better than her grandpa?

Being a working parent comes with a great deal of internal conflict.  I'm not the employee or lawyer I could be if I didn't have a child at home.  I don't come in early, I state late only a few nights a week, I rarely come in on weekends.  I'm hard-pressed to be able to take on an extra shift at the bar on the rare occasion that Lynn needs me to do so.

I'm also not the mom I could be.  I come home tired. I skipped our evening walk and rushed through bath time last night because I was just so exhausted.  Still, that seems small in comparison to the fact that I just don't get to be with her for such a significant part of the week.

Perhaps the greatest struggle I face is that I haven't completely let go of the life I had before Eden or even Marcos came along.  When Gabriel died and Ben left I learned that I had to find my happiness outside of them, and I did.  I made friends, the best friends I've ever had, and we had fun, and with them by my side I re-built my life, from finally securing a position as an associate attorney to buying a new car, stabilizing events grown from the ashy remains of instability.  It is not with a natural selflessness that I decline invitations to join my friends at dinner, a trip to the beach, or an evening of drinks at the bar.  Rather, I turn down these opportunities out of pure obligation, knowing I have a brief window during which to shape what I hope will be the long life of my daughter, and that means many days and nights, I have to be home instead of with the homies.  These are choices that I make, and perhaps I even make the "correct" choice most of the time, but they are not choices that are easily made. I can never figure out if this makes me an outlier among mothers, or just honest.

The most liberating moment I've had during motherhood is also one of the saddest.  The day I told myself, "You're not going to force yourself to breastfeed anymore" was a milestone day.  I was sad not because I wouldn't be sharing that time with Eden anymore, but rather because I didn't feel sad that I wasn't going to share that time with Eden anymore.  I hated breastfeeding.  It was never the bonding, convenient experience that I was told it would be.  I felt vulnerable, exposed, and at risk every time I did it, remnants from a sexual assault that otherwise, interferes with my life very little at this point.  I felt chained to my house, refusing to make myself vulnerable in public, surely an even riskier experience.  I felt at odds with Eden, because many of the times she wanted to feed, I didn't want to have to feed her - And by "many of the times," I mean every time.  All of this felt very inconvenient. So when I resigned myself to the fact that my daughter would be formula fed, I felt free.

Still, my decision to attempt breastfeeding in the first place was born out of a love for my daughter and a desire to make the best possible decisions for her health.  She wouldn't rely on breastmilk or formula for long, in the grand scheme of things, so I turned my attention to a mission dedicated to feeding her only whole or minimally processed foods for the first year of her life (but for the formula, of course).  She skipped grains initially, such as rice cereal or oatmeal, as Marcos and I opted to start her on solid foods with vegetable purees, which I made myself.  Through this process we also introduced starches and grains such as potatoes and barley and rice.

Purees were as easy to bring along as a jar of processed baby food would be, but when she began eating pieces of meat, vegetables and fruit our outings required more planning.  Even sending her to daycare every day with the foods I want her to eat requires work, and a dedication that I was never willing to put into breastfeeding.  But with that dedication and Marcos' support and his own hard work, we met our goal, introducing Eden to refined sugar for the first time on her birthday, with her very own birthday cake.  Watching her eat her cake, slowly and skeptically at first but with a mounting joy that resulted in a messy but happy baby, was another sad moment for me.  The love of wholesome food that I had worked to establish in her had seemed to come undone with one cake.

But my fears were proven unnecessary and irrational when the next day, she went right back to her whole food regimen with no troubles.  We've since begun to incorporate more, but still minimally, processed foods into her diet, such as dairy, bread, and pasta.  Choosing her foods isn't a complicated process. For the most part I shop for groceries on the perimeter of the store where the produce, dairy and meat counters are located.  Weaving through the aisles becomes a matter of looking at a label and putting something back on the shelf when there are too many or unrecognizable ingredients, or worse, ingredients I've learned to recognize as artificial sugars.  At the end of a grocery run, most of my cart is filled with whole, label-less foods.  The effort has paid off.  She could take or leave pasta, really, preferring spaghetti squash and eggplant pizzas.  She is her mommy's girl, and has never met a cheese that she doesn't like.  She's still never had rice cereal, a teething biscuit, a Puff, or fruit juice.

Some nights dinner is a big production, an experiment with a fancy new recipe.  Other nights it's basic chicken and vegetables, the leftovers from which she might eat for the next two days.  Some recipes are a big hit, and others are a hideous miss.  Cooking for Eden has been one of the greatest parts of motherhood for me, and the 'why' bears some explaining.

Five days a week, I have to work.  Every day, I have to eat, and so does Eden.  Like many children of my generation, I grew up in a household courted and romanced by the makers of processed foods, marketed and aimed at working parents such as mine who wanted the swiftest dinner possible to maximize the free time they would get to spend with their kids.  My mom worked all day, came home to make dinner, fed us, bathed us, checked our homework, made our halloween costumes, hemmed our pants, shuttled us to softball or swim practice, and got up to do it all again the next day.  My dad worked nights, packed our lunches in the morning, drove us to school or the bus stop, and prepared a crock pot dinner for us once or twice a week, and after minimal sleep, woke up to pick us up from school and spend the evenings with us before heading to work the graveyard shift one more time.  For my family, boxed dinners were a convenience that enabled them to do ALL of the above.

Why, then, have I chosen to spend my evenings in the kitchen, with my toddler at my feet, wanting me to hold her?  With my husband having to distract her with their shared fun and games while I cook?  Why have I chosen to go to the grocery store two to three times a week for fresh produce when I could be on the floor with Eden reading board books and playing with Ice Bat?  There is the immediate reward, the smile on her face and the contented "Mmmmm" that she produces when I've given her something she really loves.  What I hope I will also see is the long-term effect that I strive for, a love of whole foods, a satisfaction with a peach over a cookie, a craving for a roasted vegetable over a French fry - All of the things I struggle to change in myself today, but never want her to struggle over.  I hope that someday we'll work side by side in the kitchen, feeding our bodies as we must by making choices that are right for them, making up for some of the time lost when I've been cooking while she plays.  For her birthday she got a play-house kitchen, and I watch with pride as she explores it, her synapses connecting as she begins to understand that it is a little replica of our kitchen, and that she can replicate my movements therein.

Ever haunted by my past, even my meals are influenced by my days with Gabriel and Ben.  I couldn't save my son from the fatal defect that claimed his life - But how could I ever forgive myself if I didn't do all that is within my power to minimize the risk to Eden posed by her prevalent family history of diabetes?  I want her life to be long, and I want her to keep all of her extremities for its duration.  I don't want her grandchildren to watch her lose her toes, her feet, her life, the way that I watched my grandmother lose hers.  I have more information available to me today than my grandparents or even my parents ever had - Shouldn't I use it?

I know I'm not a great cook, but I'm the cook that I am in large part because I was once married to a great chef.  He taught me my way around a kitchen, but what he could never convince me to do was to take a risk.  I never wanted to cook for him unless I could be sure of the outcome.  Otherwise, I deferred to him when it came to food.  I was afraid to fail, and especially afraid to fail in front of him.  Now, I live comfortably in a relationship free from co-dependence.  I have less fear of failure, and no fear of disappointing Marcos - I'm sure that he loves me even when I fail, and I know that I don't need his love, though I am better because I have it.  I am eager to please him, but confident that he'll love me one way or the other. Countless nights,  plates of slop have been placed in front of him, supported by the best of intentions but sabotaged by lack of skill, and he dutifully eats their contents and thanks me for dinner.

People often say that I'll grow soft and less diligent with another baby in the picture, but I'm not convinced this is true.  These are lifestyle changes I'm trying to make in myself, and a lifetime of health I am trying to provide for my children.  My goals and my actions are based on convictions that I don't see changing, even though I struggle to make the changes in myself. I've found parenting to be a beastly challenge, wrought with conflict, a constant series of choices to be made and commitments that I can only meet halfway.  When it comes to feeding my Bear, though, I'm prepared to go the distance.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Sapphire Kind of Love

Marcos had no easy task when he set out to select a wedding/engagement ring.  Insistent saleswomen presented him with glittering diamond rings from their exquisite engagement ring line and ask "Wouldn't she like something like this?"

"No."  He would find something in the display case more along the lines of my taste and watch their uncertain reactions and their certain response:  "That's not an engagement ring."  I've already heard the rhetoric - Conflict-free diamonds are out there and I can easily find something that is not the product of slave labor.  But my objection to the diamond is not obvious.  My objection is to the notion that love is proven by the size and the glitter and the expense of the diamond engagement ring that becomes the symbol of a couple's love.

Marcos has found himself in the unenviable position of falling in love with a woman who is severely damaged by her past, stubborn in her ways, and has rejected tradition.  I feel sorry for his plight, but I love him with all of my heart for stepping up to the challenge.  I love him in a way that can't be bought with diamonds, or bound by convention.  I love him with a sapphire kind of love.

In the grand scheme of my own tradition, love has been dependent and desperate, pathetic and harmful.  While I have loved truly and deeply in the past, it's never been a love that was matched by the receiving party.  My tradition has been one of co-dependency and as to be expected in those kinds of relationships, they've all ended badly.

For the past two years I have been in a loving relationship, based on mutual respect and an independent desire to commit to that relationship.  Marcos and I had a baby together because we love each other, we were married because we love each other, we are having another baby because we love each other, and we'll stay together because we love each other - Not because we NEED each other, or are dependent on each other, but simply because we find life is better together.

The man I married is the most loving, sincere, kind-hearted person I've ever known.  I admire his sense of obligation to his family and appreciate it even more now that I have also become a recipient of his loyalty.  I've learned there's not a thing we could do to make him turn his back on us.  I've unfairly put him to the test over and over again, an unfortunate side effect from history of abandonment, but he never lets me down.

He is intelligent, and amazes me almost daily with his ability to think critically and independently, his ability to simply figure things out.  His brain is an endlessly functional tool which can be used in solving technical problems, discussing the likely outcome of a political event, finding symbolism in a movie or television show, or answering the many questions that arise in our parenting adventure.

Every day he makes me laugh.  And I've learned that someone who makes me laugh is invaluable to getting through this life.

He is the best father I ever could have wished for my daughter.  Nothing makes me feel his love stronger than when I see him with our Eden.  By simply being himself, he is setting an example for her as to what a man should be, what she should expect from them, and what she herself deserves.  The love and dignity with which he treats her inspires me and makes me wish the same for every little girl.

And even beyond the love he shows for Eden, he continues to amaze me with the love he is able to show for a little boy he never even met.  He's never treated me like a childless woman, but has always acknowledged that I was a mother before our relationship began, that I have a son, Gabriel, and he is a part of me.  He is a part of our family, even if not physically present.  His memory is a part of the home we're building together.  That's something I didn't think I would find, but means more to me than I could ever say.

Today, my husband's 40th birthday, I find myself reaching into my memory to recall a time when he wasn't a part of my life, and a part of me.

Sometimes it's hard to imagine that we've lived most of our adult lives without each other, we've fallen so quickly and comfortably into our life together.  I find myself wishing I could have skipped all of the bad-for-me moments and relationships and made my way straight to him.  I know, though, that I never would have appreciated the tremendous man I've married if I hadn't known tremendous heartbreak.  I would have kept seeking the glitter and sparkle of a manufactured diamond facade, perhaps never appreciating that I need a sapphire kind of love.